Disparate Impact: The Prima Facie Case

Disparate Impact: The Prima Facie Case

Under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, what is the prima facie case for disparate impact discrimination? Here's my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).



Under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), RCW 49.60, it is an unfair practice, with very few exceptions, for an employer to refuse to hire any person, to discharge or bar any person from employment, or to discriminate against any person in compensation or in other terms and conditions of employment because of age (40+); sex (including pregnancy); marital status; sexual orientation (including gender identity); race; color; creednational origin; citizenship or immigration status; honorably discharged veteran or military status; HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C status; the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability; the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability; and state employee or health care whistleblower status. It is also an unfair practice for an employer to retaliate against an employee because the employee complained about job discrimination or assisted with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Accordingly, the Washington State Supreme Court "has held that the WLAD creates a cause of action for disparate impact." Kumar v. Gate Gourmet, Inc., 180 Wn.2d 481, 503, 325 P.3d 193 (Wash. 2014) (citing E-Z Loader Boat Trailers, Inc. v. Travelers Indem. Co., 106 Wn.2d 901, 909, 726 P.2d 439 (1986)). 


"To establish a prima facie case of disparate impact, the plaintiff must show that[:]

(1) a facially neutral employment practice 

(2) falls more harshly on a protected class. 

Id. (citing Oliver v. P. Nw. Bell Tel. Co., 106 Wn.2d 675, 679, & n.1, 724 P.2d 1003 (1986)) (internal citations omitted) (paragraph formatting and hyperlink added).


For example, in Kumar v. Gate Gourmet, Inc., 180 Wn.2d 481, 325 P.3d 193 (Wash. 2014), an employer’s meal policy that was based on security concerns barred employees from bringing in their own food for lunch; and it required employees to eat only employer-provided food. However, the policy forced a group of plaintiff-employees to either work without food or eat food that violated their religious beliefs (i.e., a protected class falling under "creed"). 

The plaintiffs subsequently filed suit and alleged that the employer maintained a facially neutral meal policy that fell more harshly on those within a protected class, and the court found a viable claim of disparate impact discrimination–reversing the trial court’s previous dismissal and remanding the case for further proceeding consistent with the opinion.


If you would like to learn more, then consider contacting an experienced Washington State Employment Discrimination Attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. Please note: the information contained in this article is not offered as legal advice and will not form an attorney-client relationship with either this author or Williams Law Group; please see our DISCLAIMER.


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